How to Teach Subtraction to Grade 1: Tricks & Techniques

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    Teaching subtraction in 1st grade can become a real challenge for most parents. And sure, you want to help your child take initial steps in understanding subtraction. 

    You are in the right place to find the answers you need. In this article, you will explore effective and creative strategies to make subtraction for grade 1 students easy and fun.

    How to explain subtraction to grade 1

    The best way to explain first grade subtraction is a return to addition. Most of the strategies that are used in addition can also be applied for subtraction. For example, students learn to count on for addition, and for subtraction, they learn to count back. This practice is widely used in 1st grade.

    Explaining the subtraction symbol & concept

    In most cases, children are not aware of what «subtraction» means. That’s why, explaining the subtraction symbol and concept is an essential first step.

    Typically, teachers explain to their students that subtraction means something that is taken away. They use concrete examples relatable to first graders, such as apples, candies, and teddy bears. You can use everything your child adores!

    It will let them understand that subtraction always starts from a larger number and counts backward to find the difference.

    If you are not sure how to introduce subtraction to your kid, the best option for you is to contact a tutor and discuss the approach to your child’s education. Doing mathematics with a teacher who uses interesting teaching methods is a true magic journey and Brighterly will meet all your demands.

    How to introduce subtraction to first-grade

    To successfully introduce subtraction to grade 1, parents must realize that math is not limited to solving word problems and examples and should find the most attractive way to encourage their child to learn math. A good way to start can begin with getting acquainted with basic subtraction using visual objects – cubes, counting sticks or other toys.

    The easiest way to introduce subtraction to your kid:

    1. Get your child involved in their favorite board game. It will help to master the simple skill of counting, adding and subtracting numbers. Although they are not able to provide all the educational material, such games can lay the foundations in a light cheerful form.
    2. Relating subtraction to real-life situations helps little students to understand its practical use. Creating situations or scenarios like sharing cookies, giving away snacks, and buying some goods at a store encourages kids to apply subtraction in everyday life.
    3. Contact a math tutor to start introducing subtraction to your child in the right way.

    Keep in mind that it is quite important to make comfortable conditions for your child. Brighterly tutors will create an individual plan and prepare all the materials according to your kid’s needs.

    6 subtraction strategies for grade 1

    Teaching subtraction strategies in first grade won’t be a great challenge for you, if you will get more information about them.

    How to teach subtraction to grade 1? Learn more about each strategy

    Use manipulatives

    Manipulatives play a crucial role in the subtraction teaching toolkit.

    All the physical objects offer  a hands-on approach, allowing students to see and touch the things involved. You may start with a set number of things and remove some of them in front of a student to find the difference. For example, if there are 7 dolls and 4 are taken away. Then, ask the kid how many are left.

    Drawing or using pictures

    You may draw some apples, for instance, and then ask to cross out two of them to find the difference.

    It is a perfect way to visualize the subtraction process and comprehend the whole subtraction concept.

    Using number lines or ladders

    Number lines may be very useful as a visual example of subtraction as they provide a linear representation of numbers.

    It makes it much easier for students to understand how to subtract. For example, a kid may draw a ladder and put a sticker of a cat on the 9th footstep and ask students to jump back 2 steps from the starting number and find the difference.

    Subtraction word problems

    Another way to awake your child’s interest is by creating subtraction word problems and stories that can help them develop problem-solving skills. Kids associate numbers with different items or mates, so you can constantly practice it while going shopping, playing at the playground, picking flowers or sharing sweets.

    Games, games, more games

    All in all, the most evident and crucial thing is to apply all the learning practically. If you want to avoid a boring routine and save your child’s interest in math, implement each new strategy through gameplay.

    Different games give students an opportunity to get the material in an enjoyable manner while mastering their skills.


    One of the most effective strategies can be involving your child in any interactive action. A gamification is a switched-on approach engaging kids from the very first jump. There are a lot of educational platforms with tutors offering games to learn math. One of the top ones is Brighterly.

    We select excellent teachers who will make the learning process playful and interesting.

    5 subtraction tricks for 1st graders

    Let’s take a glance at some hints you can use while teaching your kid math. For your convenience, we’ve classified and described them below.

    • Songs and rhymes
    • Interactive apps
    • Card Games
    • Competitive tasks
    • Encouragement and Praise

    Trick 1: Songs and rhymes

    Find songs or rhymes about subtraction that you can sing or read with your child. A musical approach will help to remember subtraction facts and make lessons more fun.

    Trick 2: Interactive apps

    Use educational apps or games on your tablet or computer specifically designed to teach subtraction. Many of them offer interactive exercises and games that will make the learning process easier and more effective.

    Trick 3: Card Games

    Play card games where the child must use subtraction to collect a certain amount of cards. It develops strategic thinking and subtraction skills.

    Trick 4: Competitive tasks

    Set up a competition between your child and you or other family members to see who will be the fastest in solving subtraction drills. This promotes active participation and motivation to learn.

    Trick 5: Encouragement and Praise

    Encourage and reward your kids for their efforts in mastering subtraction every time. Praise and encouragement will certainly motivate them to continue learning and developing subtraction skills.

    Subtraction techniques for grade 1

    Finger Subtraction

    To help first-graders do subtraction tasks, you may ask them to use their fingers. For instance, children can put all their fingers up and bend four. Thus, they will count how many fingers are remaining, and find the answer.

    Game «What’s missing?»

    Show children a set of things or pictures and then hide one or more. Ask your kids to identify how many objects are hidden and how many are left. This exercise will help them to have an overview of the subtraction concept. 

    Progressively increase difficulty

    Begin with simple subtraction problems and increase the complexity by adding higher numbers or changing their order. This will help your child adapt to more challenging tasks. 

    Developing understanding

    Encourage discussion about what happens when a number is taken away. For example, «We take something and then remove part of it. What are we left with?» Or, «What will happen if we remove a few items from this group?» This will promote better comprehension of the subtraction process and its results. 

    Using individualized approaches

    Consider the specific needs of each child when teaching subtraction. For some kids it may take longer to learn the material, while others move more quickly. Do what you can to support them at their own level and learning style. 

    Using online resources

    Take advantage of online learning resources where you can find different exercises and 1st grade subtraction word problems. Many of them are adapted for primary school classes and can serve as a complement to lessons.


    Teaching subtraction to first graders can present challenges, but with the right strategies and resources, it can also be a rewarding experience for both parents and students. Using concrete examples and engaging activities, parents can help their children build a strong foundation in math from an early age. 

    Furthermore, parents might be supported by tutors or educational platforms like Brighterly, which use modern teaching strategies and flexible approaches. A little patience, a good pinch of creativity, and  trying out different problem-solving techniques, you can set your kid up for success in their mathematical education and beyond.

    For more detailed information and an individual learning plan, please contact us and get a free trial lesson and personalized recommendations.

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